Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Which came first the chicken or the egg.

Which came first the chicken or the egg.


Which came first the chicken or the egg.


kenneth ditkowsky

2:01 PM (16 hours ago)
to Ditkowsky, Ben, Deborah, Elenna, Naomi, Elizabeth, Keith, Benjamin, JoAnne, me
Which came first – the chicken or the egg.     For most of us, the issue never becomes relevant until we start looking back as to our origins.       I was asked today, how I was maneuvered into the profession I chose.    My first reaction was hostile – no one could maneuver me, I thought.    I was a free agent who followed the line of least resistance.   I was always free as a bird – in fact,  I am still *****.    Of course this is delusional – the restraints on me are sometimes tighter that need me.
As the issue, grinded at me, I realized that while my father pushed at me to follow in his footsteps at every juncture the sabotage was present.     My material grandfather introduced me, from day one, to interesting people who just happened to speculate in products associated with the Real Estate industry.   It was no accident that he made the cumbersome legal descriptions make sense to me, or that even after his death his friends would seek me out to accompany them on viewing trips.      Indeed, I was even exposed to the profit incentive and taught how learning a few basic principles could make my observations valuable and earn me a few dollars.   Medicine was by comparison a grind, while the path set before me was like sliding down a gentle slope.
I recall my first solo “purchase” of a parcel of property, however, long before I was sent out on my own I was trained in the most gentle manner, to wit:
 “Kenny, you do me a favor and run over to the Title company and check this legal description is correct”
Of course, the description was correct.   It came off the Chicago Title and Trust Company report of title.     I was being sent across the street to learn about the Tract book, grantor/grantee index, and get practice in asking ‘stupid questions’ with a straight face.     It was not long before the question asked of me was:
“Kenny, could you get me a legal description for the address ******.”      
As I learned these simple lessons I was allowed and encouraged to talk to real people in real situations.    Piece by piece and step by step I was weaned and initiated into a world that ultimately became mine.   
Why were these people interested in me?    I do not know.     I am however very grateful.      I do know that I learned that ‘fun’ and ‘work’ need not be diametrically opposed.      It was fun driving all over the City with Joe Ronsley.    I enjoyed meeting “real” people, who had real problems and were working out real solutions.     I was amazed at some of the things he said, and even more amazed that people took him seriously.    I was once with him when he negotiated the purchase of a $250,000 mortgage.      With a straight face, he offered $25,000.00 and with an equally straight face the owner of the mortgage accepted the offer.     An hour later he sold the very same note and trust deed (mortgage) for $100,000.00 to a buyer who thought he had the biggest bargain in history.      When Mr. Ronsley told me that he was the title holder of the subject property my head began to spin.    
Piece by piece Ronsley, Harry Eager, Elliot, Eaton**** taught me how the ‘priorities’ of title could not be overlooked, and just how important searching not only the title but the premises themselves was as part of the deal.    I walked through numerous basements and apartments looking for dry rot, insect infestation, mold, settlement, deterioration, faulty utilities and odors.    I got to the point where I developed a second sense that I relied upon 100% of the time.     I also learned the art of keeping up a banter so as disguise my observations and always appear to know less than every one else the room when such ignorance was required.  
Clifford Eaton, had the most patience with me.    Mr. Eaton arrived from Mississippi with almost nothing in his pocket, and a burning desire to make something out of himself.    He approached Ronsley, et al with the prospect of purchasing from them the buildings that were most difficult to sell.   He would take over these properties, manage them, pay the debt service (at a severely discounted rate) and any profits would be equitably shared.    Eaton turned out to be ‘gold mine!’ for my friends (and me).      I was ‘given’ to him to be trained.    On a Sunday morning (during the season to purchase real estate) Eaton would appear with his disreputable vehicle and he and I would travel though the target area and look at properties.     Sunday morning was also rent collection time.   
Eaton, who spoke the Queens English with more precision than my mentors – or anyone else – suddenly became a down home black man who looked and sounded as if he had just stepped off the cotton plantation.    It was a lesson that I never forgot.   Eaton never talked down to anyone but he was at the same time genuine.    He could say NO and make the recipient feel grateful.     I never was able to be his equal.     He also could spot a deficiency in a property and estimate its cost of repair down to the penny.     Nothing got by him.    He also could do magic with tradesman’s tools.    There was nothing he could not fix.
Bit by Bit, I was tutored and taught to be whomever I turned out to be.   Medical School was not to be, even though my father’s friend at the University of Illinois got me an acceptance.     I really did not want to go, and when Judy told me that I did not have to go to Med School, a large weight was lifted off my head and suddenly I felt FREE!      Indeed, I was free.    I negotiated a couple of deals on my own and I dreamt the large and impossible dreams.   
Fortuitously, Ronsley had gotten into some legal problems and he dragged me to see the lawyers.    Let me tell you – my impression of the profession was not stellar.     One practitioner lit up a cigar, put his feet on his desk and gave us advice that my 9-year-old grandson would laugh at.    I however, sad quietly, listened to the advice, and when the lawyer finished, took his cigar from his mouth, put his feet on the floor and waited for the kudos to come.   I stood up, thanked him, and said we will be in touch.    Joe smiled and joined me.     When we were totally out of the office, Joe said: “one of us has to go to law school!”      I immediately volunteered to help him in his studies.     It was shortly thereafter that I wandered over to Loyola University School of Law to ascertain what was required.     Somehow, I found myself signed up for classes.
Law school is another story.     I got married to Judy, and graduated from Law School.     I even passed the Bar Exam on the first try.   However, all the plans beyond that did not pan out.    Some took a while to peter out, but, I was on a straight path leading to being a lawyer.     For instance, Joe Ronsley suffered a fall which left him paralyzed from the waist down and he became depressed and requested that I assist him in ending it all.    I was not diplomatic and bluntly refused.    He fired me on the spot, and I was now officially engaged in the Practice of Law.     (Joe did end it all and left another big hole in my life and career.)
The lessons I learned kept me alive during the warm up period when young lawyers either make it or break it.    I had everything going for me, except they neglected in law school to teach me how to bill for services rendered, and how to collect my billings.     For five decades, I tried to learn the ‘art’ and was never successful.   Billing was my Achilles heel.    I knew exactly how to make the process an ordeal and a disaster.      Fortunately, my partner took over that problem and ******.   (that also is another story)
If you are not ‘good’ you must be lucky.     I was lucky.    I was at a party one evening and someone said:
“If someone would offer me $50.00, I would sell them this ‘Bear lake’ property.”  
 I was in earshot, and I cannot tell you what possessed me, but, I said: “I offer you $50.00!”    To my surprise, he said “sold” I gave him the $50.00 and later on he gave me a deed.       A month or so later, Judy and I went down to Bear Lake Michigan to view the property.     It was 12 acres of nothing!     It was not on the lake, and it had nothing growing on it.     It was indeed a disaster.
Undaunted a short while later I contacted a Real Estate broker in the area, asked him what his commission rate was and offered him double the rate.   My terms – collect enough down payment to pay the title charges and your fee, and  I would finance (on contract for deed) the balance.     A month later he did exactly that.     Two happy buyers paid me  (over the next couple of years) the balance in full at a 6% simple interest rate and I had the money to pay my office rent.     Subsequently, I got a commission from the Town of Manistee to develop a parcel of land.   This project is one of my most glaring  failures – I could not put together the deal.
Rent expenses were not my only expense, and I needed a supplement to my remuneration from the practice of law.     Unlike most people,  when I needed help, it came fortuitously.     Mr.  Elliot rejected a deal on a property on Halsted Street.   The property was a mess.    It had been (and still was) a rooming house with enough violations to choke a horse.    The mortgages due on he real estate were seriously in default and my friend could see no way other than forgiveness to get the mortgages current.    To make the circle complete, he could not communicate rationally with either the “owner” or his “attorney.”     Elliot was willing to sell his position in the transaction for $2,000.00.     I snapped at the offer.   The principal balance due was $20,000.00.    The interest in arrears was outrageous.   The saving grace was the fact that the Real Estate Taxes were current.    The premises was without insurance and there could be no insurance purchased.
My first step was to contact the attorney.    I made a proposal.    I would forbear on foreclosure if the owner (Karlis S ****) would bring the building in full compliance with the City Code and immediately purchase hazard insurance.    In addition, I would reduce all mortgage payments by 50% and waive all the accrued interest making a new balance of $20,000; provided that every future payment be made on time and when due without exception.   If one payment was late, or there was a single building violation on the premises effective **** Mr. S***** owed all the discounted funds plus the new balance.     As a further consideration, I wanted credit life insurance on Mr. S***”s life.    
Karlis S**** who to Elliot only spoke guttural German called me to ask me if I was serious.    I affirmed, and the next day he and his attorney met with me and the deal was signed.      S**** complied fully!    The building violations were cured, a credit life policy was purchased, and payments started.     Mr. S*** however suffered a heart attack and died, leaving me with the proceeds of the life insurance and a satisfied mortgage.
My friend Lloyd Elliot was delighted = as was I.   I had the seed money for my practice and I was on my way to a ½ a century career.   

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